Ok, by now you are all probably aware of my feelings about Wokingham Borough Council's ludicrous and extremely short-sighted decision to close Ryeish Green Secondary School, my former school, just south of Reading. Ryeish closed its doors for the last time yesterday.

Ryeish Green was a vibrant secondary school, at its peak educating around 1,000 of the area's 11-18 year olds. The site has a history of being a school for just over 100 years and for the closure to take place in it's centenary year just adds to the sadness, although it was nice to see it make this landmark.

However, a recent document shows that there is a possibility of the school having a life beyond 2010.

The Shinfield and Spencers Wood Consortium comprises the University of Reading, David Wilson Homes and Taylor Wimpey and looks to build around 2,500 in the Shinfield, Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross areas (known as the SDL, Strategic Development Location). One key phrase on their website reads

We are not proposing to develop the Ryeish Green School site, which we believe should be safeguarded for future educational use as a primary school as well as other community facilities.

The South of M4 SDL Education Strategy, published by EFM on behalf of the consortium, makes interesting reading.

For starters, it lists the four primary schools in the area "Lamb's Lane, Shinfield Infants, Shinfield Junior and Grazeley" and their capacity, current roll and forecast for 2014.

Primary School Capacity May 2009 Roll January 2014 Forecast
Lamb's Lane 210 192 228
Shinfield Infant 180 140 172
Shinfield Junior 252 172 212
Grazeley 85 96 135
Total 727 544 747

 

This clearly shows that the number of pupils in the area are rising, so much so that Grazeley primary - already slightly over capacity - will be almost 60% over capacity in its current form in 2014.

But where will these children go after primary school? The EFM report states that there are nine secondary schools in the Wokingham borough, with most children in the SDL attending either Ryeish Green or Emmbrook.

The strategy report does mention Wokingham's decision to close Ryeish Green and gives reasoning behind it.

5.3 The closure of Ryeish Green School in 2010 will be the result of a decision taken by WBC on 16 August 2007. Whilst WBC's decision might seem perverse at a time when a substantial amount of new housing was being planned for the area, the decision reflected concerns about the school's viability and the effect on educational standards. The objectives of the closure proposal were expressed as follows: "The objectives of the proposal are to address the surplus places at the school, together with the effects of falling pupil numbers on the school's educational and financial viability and the impact on future educational standards."

5.4 WBC made clear in discussions with the Consortium in 2008 that whilst the closure of Ryeish Green School was considered a necessity, additional capacity would need to be added to the secondary schools across the borough to meet the needs arising from the SDLs.

I still believe Wokingham council created the situation of falling pupil numbers at Ryeish themselves by drip-feeding speculation about the school's future, scaring parents away from the school and forcing it to become unviable.

Following Ryeish's closure, the official catchment area for the area is shared between Emmbrook and Bulmurshe, neither of which are particularly close to the area. There are also rumours/plans for the Council's axe to be wielded in Emmbrook's direction in the near future, although Wokingham see this as a relocation, rather than a closure.

5.6 WBC's commitment to eight schools also means that an existing school will have to be relocated to Arborfield. No formal decision has been made, but the Leader of the Council published a press statement January 2009 that seems to make WBC's position clear: "The Emmbrook School, due to ongoing flooding and physical site restrictions, will have to be moved from its present site and rebuilt in another location." Any such relocation of a school is subject to consultation and approval processes under education legislation and the outcome of such a process cannot be taken for granted. Previous proposals to move Emmbrook School were abandoned in January 2006 in response to residents' objections.

Anyway, back to my original question - will Ryeish Green breathe again?

Further in to the document, the Education Strategy offers the following:

4.9 WBC officers have expressed interest in the possibility of relocating Lamb's Lane Primary School. It is understood that WBC's strategy to move the school is widely known and is supported by the school.

4.10 Two potential locations for the primary school have been identified. One location is on the northern boundary of proposed development at Spencer's Wood, adjoining Hyde End Lane and Ryeish Lane. The other is the Ryeish Green School site. Interestingly, it is understood that the site originally accommodated the Three Mile Cross Primary School which existed from 1911 until the secondary school was established after the Second World War.

4.11 The two sites are quite close to each other, and a school at either location would be capable of serving the western part of the SDL. The Ryeish Green site would be slightly closer to the Three Mile Cross area and is more centrally located, while the southern site would be slightly closer to Spencer's Wood. An advantage of the Ryeish Green site is that it is an established sports facility and a range of existing school buildings which may well be capable of reuse. Reusing existing buildings at Ryeish Green (whether on a temporary or permanent basis) could have very significant advantage in terms of how soon a school could be established. A "Planning for Real" workshop held on 20th June 2009 supported the principle of retaining and enhancing the facilities on the site.

4.12 Shinfield Parish Council has formally responded to the Public Consultation on Wokingham Strategic Development Locations including the following: "LDF Ryeish Green School site "This must be retained along with the Leisure Centre for education (both Primary & Secondary), recreation and community use - with any residential development to be strongly resisted. The former use was the unanimous proposal from the three South of the M4 working groups at the masterplanning workshop on 20th June at Arborfield."

4.13 The condition of the existing Ryeish Green School buildings has not been discussed with WBC. A new primary school on the site might be in new buildings or involve the renovation and reuse of existing buildings. WBC's intentions for the future of the site are not known.

Whilst WBC's intentions may not be known, the fact that the body they've asked to advise them on the future of education in the borough recommends that the Ryeish Green site stays as a school "and in turn a focal point of the local community" is fantastic.

It'll certainly be interesting to see what Wokingham's next step will be.

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